Review – It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Max… (“Mad Max: Fury Road”)

Yup, George “too much ain’t enough” Miller is back at the helm for his beloved Mad Max franchise, sans Mel Gibson, and brings back his tried ‘n’ true spectacle of unimaginable stunts, outrageous and twisted vehicles, and a simple plot you could write on a bullet casing. Welcome back, George!
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Re-imagining his own Mad Max 2: Road Warrior, but without all that pesky stuff like a cohesive plot and dialoge to get in the way, we see Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, barely speaking here) having the worst day of his life. Besides being haunted by all-too real hallucinations of his dead daughter, he’s captured by the dreaded War Boys, a gang of freaks that live in the vast Citadel and home to thousands of starving people. This ‘city’ is run by the tyrannical cult leader, King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne–wearing a fearsome breathing mask like Tom Hardy did as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). Radiation poisoning from the past Apocalyptical years has left many of them scarred, bleached-white, and bloated. Eeeuuwwww!  

Anyway, Immortan Joe’s lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron–with a nearly shaved head), is sent to go get gas for the Citadel, but she has other plans. Apparently, Furiosa has stolen Joe’s five wives (he’s a Mormon? Who knew!) who are also breeders, and taken off for the Green Place (a “promised land”) far away from Joe and all his evilness. But when Joe finds out, he calls out his cacophony of crazy cars to go get her. A War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is jazzed, since he gets to strap Max to the front of his car during the pursuit. Oh, and did I mention that Max and Nux are not only chained together, but intravenously tethered together?

After a spectacular chase and multiple crashes, Max manages (and none to easily) to join forces with Furiosa in her tricked-out big-rig, her beautiful half-naked girl posse, and a confused Nux. The pursuit continues as Joe calls on the two other warring gangs for help: the Bullet Farmers and the Gas Town Boys. And the chase is on. Good news: Max and Furiosa manage to elude the bad guys through a swamp and make good their escape. Bad news: Furiosa’s finds that Green Place is long gone.

With everyone dejected, Max comes up with a nutty idea: drive back to the Citadel instead of going further on. Sure, it’s sheer madness to do it, but they’ll have the element of surprise on their side. So, off they go back through the gauntlet of bikes, trikes, and wacky racers, just so they can make it back to where they started from in the first place. You simply won’t believe the awesome devastation and glorious mayhem that awaits them!

Miller, along with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, wrote this gritty and noisy Cirque du Insanity over-the-top lunacy with Miller’s practical direction. And by ‘practical’, I mean there’s almost zero CGI here, folks. Those harrowing stunts, crashes, and smashes are all very real and had the audience I was with “ooo-ing” and “aaah-ing” like a 4th of July fireworks show. And let’s not overlook the breathtaking cinematography of John Seale, who paints this world in pallets of desert red and washed-out grey. The thin plot doesn’t have much dialogue, back story, or depth like it’s predecessors, so good luck trying to figure out what’s going on, especially with it’s bizarre and often grotesque scenes.

Hardy is a formidable Max, but he lacks any real personality like Gibson did. While Hardy is viciously feral and systematic, Gibson showed humanity underneath all his toughness. Hoult is wonderful, showing really a character arc without straining it and lovely Theron, sporting a Terminator-ish mechanical forearm, is the best part of the movie. She easily steals the picture from Hardy… so much so, that Miller has already planned a sequel about her. Mad Max: Furiosa has already been written and will go into production soon.

*Side-note: the cars, trucks, motorcycles, and whatever’s of Fury Road are stars unto themselves. Like Frankenstein creations gone terribly wrong, they’re something out of a Rat Fink nightmare (Google that). Nothing about these vehicles is normal and they look impossible to drive, but drive they do with frightening pipes they spew fire, razor-sharp everything, and (this is my favorite) a giant war machine outfitted with huge twin speaker walls. Chained to this is a blind freak shredding away on a massive guitar-monster that shoots out blood and fire! OMG! Is that wicked or what??

 

Now that we have a reboot of the Mad Max franchise after a 30 year absence  (yeah, it’s been that long!), let’s take a look back at the three movies that started it all.

Mad Max (1979)

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George Miller’s original B-movie about an Australian dystopian saga set in the future where law and order has begun to break down following a major energy crisis. There are some smaller communities and a relatively peaceful life with major cities still around, but nasty motorcycle gangs scavenge the lands and terrorize the population. Mel Gibson is Max Rockatansky, a cop from the Main Force Patrol (the only police force) and patrols the lands to uphold the remains of law and justice.Well, a crazy biker named Crawford “Nightrider” Montazano (Vincent Gil), has killed an MFP officer and attempts to outrun the other officers in a stolen cop car. Max and Nightrider get into a game of ‘chicken’ and Nightrider gets killed. There’s more deaths, revenge, Max’s brand new Police Interceptor (the fastest car ever), and the deaths of Max’s wife and infant. His rage is complete and he walks away into the Outback, with his new nickname, “Mad” Max.

Directed and written by Miller (with James McCausland), the movie made a mint in Australia and was brought to the U.S. market later, but dubbed with an American team because the distributors thought we wouldn’t understand all the Aussie slang and dialects! It was later re-released in 2000 with the original soundtrack and the original voices. This was only Mel Gibson’s second movie and he actually showed up at the audition, disheveled and all black and blue after being in a drunken bar fight the night before. The casting agent liked the look!

The shocking depiction of violence got this movie banned in several countries, but garnered Miller much needed clout to roll out a sequel. And what a sequel it was!

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
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More polished with a helluva script penned by director George Miller, Terry Hayes, and Brian Hannant, this sequel packed a wallop with Gibson reprising his role as Max and introducing Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain, a goofy aeronut who becomes Max’s unwilling partner.  It’s years after the original movie and Max is on the run from crazies on motorcycles. His only friend is a mangy little dingo that rides with him. The Outback has turned into a bloodbath for the “precious juice” (gasoline) and everyone there will kill for it.

There’s a powerful mutant leader called Lord Humungus (Kjell Nillson) who wears a Jason-ish hockey mask and commands a huge army of motorcycle and war machine nasties. He sends them after a small rag-tag family group of people who defend a gas tanker containing the last of the fuel; these good people put up a fight, but sadly, they’re trapped as they have no truck to pull the tanker.

That’s where Max comes in! Repair and fill his Police Interceptor and he’ll get a rig to pull that tanker and help the leader, Pappagallo (Michael Preston) and his people out of their fix. But the job’s not gonna be an easy one what with the crazies keeping an eye on the facility day and night, so Max sneaks out using a feral kid’s (Emil Minty) secret tunnel. Max brings back the rig alright, but now the problem is one of diversion: how to keep the crazies away while the good people escape with the fuel for a faraway ‘promised land’.  Even the Gyro Captain lends a hand, even though he has ulterior motives.

There’s massive destruction, chase scenes that are jaw-dropping, hyper-realistic camera shots, and Gibson as the cynical and selfish Max caught in the middle. Miller’s direction is all over the place with every angle exploited, like Sam Raimi. It’s a beautiful, horrifying movie where Miller really shows off his talent behind the camera. The chase scenes are especially scary and brutal when you realize that Miller uses NO CGI and NO trick photography. It quite literally takes your breath away. It’s whirlwind ride with double the violence as the original, that made serious bank at the box office and earned high praise with all the film critics. It also opened the door for another sequel.

*Side note: watch Road Warrior and then Fury Road, and see how many similarities there are between them! Hint: look for the music box!

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
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It’s 15 years later and Max is STILL wandering the Outback. Sheesh! This guy can’t catch a break! He stumbles into Bartertown, a dangerous, sleezy Wild West-esque town after his camels and his precious Police Interceptor get stolen. This desert haven is run by the enigmatic Auntie Entity (rock singer Tina Turner) who lives high above the filth and offers Max a deal: he’ll get all his stuff back if he’ll get rid of her enemy and rival, MasterBlaster (Angelo Rossitto, a dwarf who rides piggy-back on board the towering Paul Larrson).

It seems that Bartertown’s chief fuel is methane, a gas made from pig excrement, and MasterBlaster has a lock on that commodity… something that Auntie Entity wants. Anyway, Max picks a fight with Blaster, causing a cage fight to the death inside Thunderdome, a steel-domed arena. Max wins, but doesn’t kill Blaster, and is sent to die alone in the desert. But (and here’s where the story gets loopy) he meets up with a tribe of children (aka The Lost Boys from Peter Pan) who mistake Max for a legendary pilot named Captain Walker.

They nurse him back to health and he later leads them back to Bartertown for revenge and to get his stuff back. But, y’know, this IS a Mad Max movie, and what Mad Max movie would be complete without the requisite chase scene in the desert, right? There’s a doozie of a chase scene as the denizens of Bartertown go after Max and the kids, but lo and behold, who shows up? It’s the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) from the second movie and (WTH?) his 8-year-old son??

Gyro-guy has built a small plane and uses it to fly all the kids away from danger as Max takes on the whole fleet of warring vehicles. In the end, the kids grow up in Sydney and tell the tale of Max and how he saved them, while we see a battered and lonely Max wandering the desert, presumably looking for a part four. Sorry, Max. That’s not gonna happen until 2015.

Again written by Hayes and Miller and under Miller’s direction, many thought this Mad Max had ‘jumped the shark’ with the odd storyline involving children and casting Tina Turner as the lead villain. . . uh, villainess. Not that she didn’t do a good job, mind you, it just was strange casting. People went in expecting to see another gritty, violent, and destruction-on-a-massive-scale movie like Road Warrior, but instead got Mad Max-lite. And that whole “Lost Boys/Mad Max the hero” scenario didn’t work at all and took the movie in a whole different direction.